Found A Litter of Kittens? What You Should Do...
From time to time you may find litters of kittens in your neighborhood. Whether you should help, and how you should help, greatly depends on their age and whether Mom is around to care for her children. Unfortunately, orphaned kittens less than 4 weeks old cannot live without their mother, and must be bottle fed around the clock in order to survive.
 
Thankfully, most discoveries of newborn kittens do not call for human assistance, and in fact, leaving Mom and her family alone is generally the best thing you can do.
 
From May through September—the height of cat breeding season—it is not unusual to discover a nest of unattended kittens or a single kitten seemingly abandoned by the mother. You probably will want to help, but BEFORE jumping to the rescue, please consider these facts:
  • Remember that Mom knows best. The goal is to keep the mother and kittens together to ensure the best chances for the kittens’ survival. In the first weeks of their lives, kittens need their mother’s care and antibodies from her milk. As they grow, the mother will begin to give her kittens the critical training they will need to survive on their own.
  • Determine the age of the kittens:
Under 1 week: Eyes are shut, ears are flat to the head and the skin is pinkish. Part of the umbilical cord may be attached.
10-14 days: Eyes begin to open and ears are still flat to the head. The kittens are smaller than your hand.
3 weeks (21 days): Eyes are fully open and are blue in color. Ears are erect and tooth buds are visible. The kittens are walking, but are wobbly.
4 weeks (28 days): Teeth erupt through the gums. There is possible interest in canned food. The kittens are now walking.
5-6 weeks (35-42 days): Eyes are changing from blue to adult color. The kittens are playful and begin to pounce and leap.
8-9 weeks (56-63 days): The kittens weigh about two pounds and look like small cats.
 
  • Quietly observe from a safe distance to determine if the mother is present. Though the mother stays continually with her litter for the first day or two after giving birth, she will need to leave them for short periods of time in order to find food for herself. If the kittens are clean and sleeping in a heap, Mom is most likely out scouting for something to eat. Please note that it is instinctual, and rather common, for a mother to move her kittens to a new "safer" location, especially in the first few weeks of their lives. Establishing a new nest is part of the cat’s instinctual behavior to safeguard her young by not remaining in one place too long.
Above all, do not interfere with the kittens or the space they are occupying. It is essential that you:
  • DO NOT handle them
  • DO NOT try to create a shelter
  • DO NOT try to keep them warm
  • DO NOT try to feed them, as long as the mother is around. 
 
These interventions may stress the mother and cause her to abandon her family.
 
You can help the mother by providing food and water. Be sure to place dishes far enough away from the nest so that you do not disturb Mom and her kittens, or draw predators such as raccoons to the nest area.  And of course, keep dogs and children far away.
 
Kittens with friendly mother
 
If you determine that the mother is friendly (socialized), the best approach is to take her and the kittens indoors until the kittens are old enough to be weaned, sterilized and adopted. The mother should then be spayed and either placed in an adoptive home or returned to her territory depending on space available at the shelter and her temperament. 
 
Kittens with a feral (unsociable) mother
 
The mother needs to be trapped and spayed, but not now.  Once the kittens are “weaned” (eating on their own - typically no earlier than 4 weeks), the kittens can be safely separated from the mother. You can then begin the socialization process in your home or bring them to our shelter so they can fostered until they are at least two pounds. At that point, they can be placed into adoption depending on their health. 
 
Once kittens are weaned, the mother cat can be humanely trapped, spayed and returned to her outdoor home. 
 
How to find homes for the kittens
 
Kittens brought into our shelter that are at least 2 pounds will be examined by our Clinic team. If they are healthy enough, they will be spayed/neutered and placed into adoption. Once kittens have reached 10-12 weeks of age, the socialization process is much harder. You may have success socializing the kittens on your own, but at this point we recommend having the kittens spayed or neutered.
 
Kittens without a mother
 
If kittens are very young (less than three weeks), and after four hours the mother has not returned, you may conclude she has abandoned her kittens. As tiny kittens easily become chilled and dehydrated, this would be the time for human intervention, which means bottle feeding them until they are 4 weeks or older. Commercial kitten formula and bottles for kittens are available at most large pet supply stores. DO NOT FEED THE KITTENS MILK, TUNA, MEAT OR OTHER FOOD!!
 
If the kittens are older (eyes open and kittens moving around), the Mom can stay away for quite some time. Please do not consider the kittens abandoned unless the Mom has been gone for more than 10 hours.
 
If you discover that the mother is deceased or for any reason it appears that she is not coming back, then you can remove the kittens. Please note that Broward County Animal Care does not have the staff to bottle feed and care for kittens around the clock. If you want to help save the kittens, please be prepared to care for them until they are old enough to eat on their own.
 
After reading this information, if you believe that you’ve found an orphan kitten or litter of kittens, please review the following resources provided by Alley Cat Allies and the ASPCA:
For information about spaying/neutering feral cats and kittens, please contact us at 954-359-1313 or e-mail us at animalcare@broward.org.